What is the Ten-Points and How Did It Come About? (Part I)

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There is an expression: the Malaysian way of doing things. In recent years, another expression became popular: Malaysia Boleh! (meaning Malaysia can or is able to do it). It has been used by the public to describe everything from the good to the bad and especially government behaviour that irks the public. I think the Malaysian way stems from the complexity of the multi-racial and multi-religious population of Malaysia. Compromise (in a good sense) has been a way of life in Malaysia. At the political level, the government that ruled the country since Independence is a coalition government drawn from different races and founded on the approach of give-and-take. Most of us grew up with friends from other races and we have co-existed happily until race-based politics reared its ugly head from the 1980s onwards.

In my previous posts, I had described how imports as well as local printing of the Al-Kitab had been restricted by the Federal Government. In mid-2005, then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi ordered the release of BSM’s 1,000 Al-Kitabs detained by the Government and issued a letter to the effect that all future copies of the Al-Kitab that are brought into the country must carry on its cover the symbol of the cross and the words “Penerbitan Christian” (Christian Publication).

In spite of this, the next shipment of 5,000 Al-Kitabs imported by BSM with the cross and words on its cover was detained at Port Kelang by the Home Ministry (KDN) on 23 March 2009. Appeals and complaints were made to the KDN. From time to time, there were rumours of the release of the bibles but none them were founded.

In early March, 2011, BSM called the churches to pray for the release of the bibles to mark the approaching second anniversary of its detention. This call coincided with the campaigning for the Sarawak state election due in early April. The issue was picked up by the press and the opposition parties. The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) through its head, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, issued a strongly worded protest. Very quickly, the detention of the bibles became a national issue as well as a campaign issue in Sarawak.

Thoroughly embarrassed and fearful of losing Sarawak which had a significant Christian majority, the Federal government appointed Senator Idris Jala to handle the crisis. Idris is a Christian native of Sarawak. Before he joined the government, he was a corporate superstar having served in Shell worldwide and then turning Malaysian Airlines back into the black.

On 12 March 2011, Idris called CFM and informed them that the Prime Minister Najib Razak had ordered the Home Minister to release the 5,000 Al-Kitabs held in Port Klang and 30,000 BM Bible Portions imported by the Gideons held in Kuching port.

CFM is an umbrella body set up to represent the Christian community to the Government. It has 3 component bodies: the Roman Catholics, the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF). CCM is the umbrella body for the mainline Protestant churches and NECF represents the newer evangelical denominations.

On 14 March 2011, I was invited to attend a meeting between Idris and CFM. I was representing BSM whose bibles had been detained. Idris briefed the meeting about his involvement in this issue and the PM’s order to release the bibles. He said that a letter to inform BSM about the release of the bibles will be issued by KDN within the next few days and that future imports of Al-Kitabs are subject to the conditions laid down by Abdullah Badawi in 2005. He also stressed that the issue of the Al-Kitab must be kept separate from that of the Herald case.

The next day, Idris announced in the press the Government’s decision to release the bibles. Later that evening, BSM received a letter from KDN Putrajaya informing us that the bibles will be released but that it must be stamped and serialised. A sample of the stamp was attached to the letter. We immediately decided to reject this condition to stamp our bibles and prepared our reply while at the same time informing CFM of this condition that had never surfaced in the meeting with Idris.

The purpose of the stamp was obvious. It was a means to track buyers of the bibles. Any of these bibles that end up in the hands of a Muslim can then be traced back to the original buyer. Once Christians learn about this, no one would buy our bibles. This would kill off the distribution of the Al-Kitab in the country considering the fact that BSM is the sole producer and importer of the Al-Kitab.

Before we could reply, I received a call from a lady the next day, 16 March 2011. She identified herself as the head of the Control of Publications and Quranic Texts Department of KDN in Putrajaya. She said, “Can you come and collect your Bibles. We chopped it for you already.”

“What!” I blurted out, “did you say you chopped my bibles?”

“Yes. No need for you to do it. We did it for you already,” came the reply.

“How dare you chop my bibles,” I raised my voice, “We never agreed to any such condition. You check with Idris Jala.”

“Anyway, we sudah chop. You come and collect, lah.”

“No, I am not going to collect. I am going to inform CFM and we are going to complain,” I said as I slammed the phone down.

An example of the stamp with serial number made on every one of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs.

An example of the stamp with serial number made on every one of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs.

Within the hour, I released a press statement saying that the Government had desecrated our holy books. Then all hell broke loose!

BSM Media Statement: 2 April 2014

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After making many promises to return the bibles seized by JAIS, Selangor State EXCO washes their hands off the problem and tries to pass the buck to Attorney-General. Read Menteri Besar Khalid’s statement here ( at Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail; Free Malaysia Today). Here is my response on behalf of Bible Society of Malaysia:

BSM will not write to AG.

BSM was raided by JAIS, a Selangor government department. The bibles are held by JAIS in their office in Shah Alam, a stone’s throw from the Menteri Besar’s office.

This problem was caused by a department of the Selangor State Government. It was an assault by Selangor State authorities against the rights of the Christian community in Selangor. It is the responsibility of the Selangor State Government to correct this unjust situation and BSM will not be party to Khalid’s attempt to dump his rubbish in somebody else’ backyard.

The Federal Government has given the Ten Points Solution in 2011 that allowed Christians to import, print and distribute the Alkitab throughout Malaysia. In reliance on the Ten Points, BSM has imported the Alkitab on many occasions over the past 2 years and the Federal Government has faithfully honoured the Ten Points when they ensured that each shipment of bibles were promptly cleared and released without delay.

The action of JAIS in raiding BSM and the Selangor State Exco washing their hands off their responsibility today is a clear statement to the people of Selangor that the Government of Selangor rejects the Ten Points Solution and that it does not intend to accord Christians in Selangor as well as the rest of Malaysia access to their holy books in the national language.

RECOLLECTIONS: HOW DID WE GET HERE? (Part I)

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The heart of the ongoing Allah controversy and also the basis for the raid on The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Islamic Department of Selangor (JAIS) is a Selangor state law which seeks to control and restrict the propagation by non-Muslims of their religion to Muslims. In particular, the law makes it an offence for a non-Muslim, in a published writing or broadcasted speech, to use the word Allah (among others) to refer to anything in a non-Muslim religion.

We need to ask the question: Why did these laws even exist in the first place? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the historical context.

In the 19th century, the British colonised the Malay peninsula. Singapore, Malacca and Penang called the Straits Settlements fell under the direct rule of the British. For the rest of the peninsula, the British intended to introduce a system of indirect rule. The Treaty of Pangkor was entered into between the British and the ruler of Perak in 1874. The Perak ruler had to accept a British Resident who would in effect rule the state. By this treaty, the British gained effective and absolute rule and control over Perak. However, the British did not want the local people to think that they had ousted the sultan. So, it was important to give the appearance that the sultan was still in control. Thus, the Treaty of Pangkor stipulated that the sultan had to accept the advice of the British Resident in all matters except matters relating to Malay religion and custom.

From the inception of British colonisation, residual powers like these were given to the sultans as the British took away everything else. The sultans were still the heads of Islam and they retained the power to decide on and administer matters relating to Islam and Malay customs. This model was followed in the rest of the states that the British colonised except that in the Unfederated Malay States the Resident was called Adviser.

For the next 80 years when the British ruled Malaya, they did not allow any Christian missionary work among the Malay peoples. Significant defections of Malays from Islam would reduce the power base of the sultans and this would chip away at whatever little power the sultans were left with. The British were more concerned with the success of their colonial programme and did not want anything, in particular, missionary activity, to upset the Malay sultans and the Malay people (see Michael Northcott, “Two Hundred Years of Anglican Mission” in Hunt, Lee and Roxborough, edd, Christianity in Malaysia, Pelanduk Publications, 1992, pages 35, 36 and 40).

Thus, British policy gave rise to a thinking that, firstly, matters relating to Islam belonged exclusively to the Malay rulers, and, secondly, propagation of other religions to Muslims must be avoided.

On the insistence of Malay nationalists and the Malay rulers, this thinking was reflected in the Malaysian Constitution when the country gained its independence in 1957 (see Joseph Fernando, The Making of the Malayan Constitution, MBRAS, 2002) . The Yang Dipertuan Agung became head of Islam for the Federal Territories and the sultans were the heads of Islam in their respective states. In the division of powers between the Federal and State governments, it was enshrined in the Constitution that the power to legislate on Islam belonged to the States. While a chapter on human rights was introduced, freedom of religion was qualified by Article 11(4) which stated that states may pass laws to control and restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

While this power was given the States, it was never used for more than 20 years. In 1980, the state of Terengganu passed the first of such laws, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment (No. 1 of 1980) of Terengganu. Other states followed suit. The complete list is as follows: Terengganu: 1980; Kelantan: 1981; Kedah: 1988; Malacca: 1988; Perak: 1988; Selangor: 1988; Pahang: 1989; Negeri Sembilan: 1991; Johor: 1991; Perlis: 2002. Only 4 states do not have such laws: Federal Territory, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak.

Why did Terengganu pass the law in the first place? An examination of the social and political situation in Malaysia in the 1970s does not disclose any friction between the various religious communities. The only inter-religious conflict I could think of was the Kerling Incident in 1977 where a number of Muslim zealots were killed by temple caretakers when they attacked a Hindu temple in Kerling in the middle of the night. This incident had nothing to do with the use of Quranic expressions but arose from the sensitivity of some Muslim extremists towards religious images.

In his article, “Allah judgment: The role of Mahathir, PAS and Anwar,” Rama Ramanathan identified Dr Mahathir’s diabolical diagnosis of genetic and mental weakness of Malays as the root cause of the present “Allah” dilemma. He said:

“Mahathir became Deputy Prime Minister in 1976 and became Prime Minister in 1981 when his predecessor Hussein Onn resigned “due to health reasons.” At that time, Mahathir was considered unlikely to succeed. There were serious doubts over whether he could lead Umno to victory. He was vilified by PAS. Mahathir soon proved his critics wrong. He patiently and vigorously sculpted strategies to ensure his survival for long enough to achieve his vision for Malaysia. Mahathir devised a powerful strategy to rob PAS of the claim that Umno is not ‘Islamic’. He would ‘show the people’ Umno was Islamic, and would make Malays rich. Mahathir used Islam as a tool to sculpt the new image of Umno. Barry Wain has put it so well, I can do no better than to quote him again: “Recast overnight by his critics as an “anti-Muslim villain” and contemptuously labelled Mahazalim, Mahakejam and Mahafiraun – the Great Oppressor, the Cruel One and the Great Pharoah: in summary, the cruellest of them all – Dr Mahathir chose not to address the many sources of discontent. Instead, he tried to recover Malay affection by further out-bidding PAS on religion, offering some of the items on the fundamentalist agenda he had always opposed. Encouraged and emboldened, religious bureaucrats flexed their muscles and tried to impose a grim form of Islamic orthodoxy (Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, Palgrave: 2009 p. 218). Mahathir co-opted Anwar Ibrahim, then leader of ABIM. At the time Anwar joined Umno in 1982, only Terengganu and Kelantan had passed the restrictive enactments. How did Umno get its Islamic credentials? (1) The co-option of Anwar, a politician with stellar Islamic credentials; (2) Mahathir’s strategy of doing “Islamic things” like passing legislation to ‘show’ Umno is Islamic – and thereby silence PAS; (3) courting the international media and showcasing Malaysia as an Islamic nation.”

(Tomorrow: The next step in the grand plan)